Banana Kush, Durban Poison, Denver Confidential, Golden Goat. Pot cookies, chocolates, gummy bears, and lollipops. When you first smoked weed in high school, this is the Willy Wonka like world you dreamed about. Welcome to Denver, Colorado.
This of course, is the recreational component of "The Green Rush" in Colorado, where marijuana was officially legalized on January 1st, 2014. As important, are the medical advances and innovations that are constantly being explored and nourished in this new environment. It has all created a buzz, pardon the pun, that can be tangibly felt throughout the state, especially in Denver, the epicenter of the rush. This is the testing lab for legalization in the US, and ground zero for the recreational industry.
Broadway Street is a main avenue that runs over 10 miles south from downtown Denver. At about 7 miles down, shuffled between antique shops, you hit the highest concentration of marijuana dispensaries in the United States. Evergreen Apothecary, The Kind Room, and Little Brown House form a group of dispensaries that are pushing to name this 5 block stretch of Broadway the "Green Mile".
Make no mistake, this isn't a ragtag group of stoners selling pot from a frat house. This is a tightly regulated industry, and BIG business. Before entering each dispensary you are ID'd to identify age, in-state or out-of-state residency, and medical or recreational buyers. At Evergreen Apothecary they also took down my information and inputed it in their system. Once you pass through the gauntlet, you are handled/guided by a personal "budtender" who attends to your questions and desires. Recreational users are restricted to the front counters in most of the dispensaries I visited, while medical users are allowed behind closed doors or up stairs to other areas. It all feels a little a sterile, at times uptight, as if you're passing through a TSA checkpoint.....or moving through a holding pen to get a fix. Only at a few moments did I get a relaxed smile, or joke.
"New industries don't start up often", declared my budtender at WellSpring. He's right. It was enough to move him from Boston a year ago, shortly after legalization. He's here in Denver, like many other transplants, eager to learn and be a part of the emerging industry. To your surprise, he wouldn't fit the narrow stereotype of the pot world you might have. Well spoken, clean cut, he looks like he just walked out of a math class at MIT. Down the block at The Kind Room, my budtender admittedly started working there just as a way to pay the bills. After time she's now realized the potential, and is excited to grow in the industry and make it a career. I'd consider her lucky to have the opportunity, as there's quite a few folks across the country who would love to have her job.
Over the course of 4 months, and across 25 states, I couldn't escape talk or mention of Denver. Someone was either moving there next month, or had a friend who recently relocated. While this migration can't entirely be attributed to The Green Rush, as Denver and Colorado have been experiencing steady growth for the past 5-10 years, you can't deny the excitement that licit marijuana has sent out across the United States. If the prospect of legal pot doesn't move you, the money certainly will. $700 million in sales year one, and a conservative projection of $1 billon by 2016, has brought prospective "potrepreneurs" and those looking to strike it rich from all corners of the country, much like The Gold Rush some 150 years ago. Something tells me this boom will continue to spread, and last much, much longer.